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UFC's Political Fighter

Marc Ratner's first encounter with the Ultimate Fighting Championship was as the vocal opposition.

In the 1990s, as a member of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Ratner went on CNN and said, “There are no rules and I cannot regulate a sport with no rules.”

Yet these days, Ratner is the UFC's voice in regulatory and government affairs, spending his days trying to persuade states to sanction the burgeoning sport. And he is having tremendous success — since he joined the company in 2006, the list of states permitting UFC events has grown from 22 to 40.

“Things are very positive,” he said.

Ratner switched sides only after the UFC evolved from a fight club into a well-run, well-regulated sport. He also learned about the sport itself.

“I didn't understand things like the fact that when they are grappling the guy on the bottom could win the fight,” he said. “It took time for me to learn as a regulator and a fan.”

In 2005, UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta, who served on the Nevada commission with Ratner, and partner Dana White took Ratner to lunch and began wooing him. Since accepting their offer to be vice president of regulatory and government affairs, he said, “I have seen more state capitals then I have ever dreamed of,” as he educates politicians about the sport's legitimacy.

Currently, Ratner is pushing for acceptance in Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and “the cherry on top of dessert,” New York.

“New York City is still the centerpiece, the media capital of the world,” he said, adding that the strong television ratings and pay-per-view buy rates in the city indicate it would be hugely popular there. “It's ludicrous to tell fighters and fans to go to Newark. And being at Madison Square Garden will validate the UFC even further.”

The chaos that has made New York state's legislature a national laughingstock this spring — with senators switching party loyalties and shutting down the legislative process — is “very disheartening and is going to knock us out for the season,” he said.

But once things return to what passes for normal in Albany, Ratner said, “I feel very strongly the UFC will be sanctioned there.”

Stuart Miller has been writing about television for 30 years since he first joined Variety as a staff writer. He has written about television for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Vulture and numerous other publications.